October 30, 2007
PORT-AU-PRINCE – Whether you are an adult or a child, man or woman, heterosexual or gay, all Haitians living with HIV are subject to the stigma linked to the virus.
Jean-Sorel Beaujour cannot forget the night he was shot by burglars who broke into his house. “I went to the university hospital where I saw two doctors. I warned them that I was infected and they refused to treat me,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. Despite the seriousness of his injuries, he was left unattended until a young female doctor eventually agreed to don some gloves and come to his assistance.
Beaujour, director of the Association of National Solidarity for Persons Living with and Affected by HIV/AIDS, for which the French acronym is ASON, is far from the only person living with HIV to have experienced such discrimination. PHAP+, an umbrella group that links 15 organisations with a membership of over 5,000 people living with HIV throughout the country, receives daily reports of such occurrences.
If HIV is linked to a lifestyle considered “immoral”, or outside the norms of a society with deep-seated traditional values, as in the case of sex workers and men who have sex with men (MSM), the prejudice and stigma is often even greater. “MSM endure ridicule and marginalisation,” said Réginald Dupont, programme coordinator for Sérovie, a PHAP+ affiliate organisation working with MSM.
Although MSM are less often victims of violence in Haiti than in other Caribbean countries, Dupont said MSM who are also HIV-positive face “a double discrimination”. He told the story of a young male sex worker from Jacmel, a coastal town in the south of the country, whom he suggested should be tested after his partner’s death.
“When he went to get his test, even before he had left the health centre everyone knew he was infected … he was discriminated against on three levels [he was gay, HIV-positive and a sex worker],” Dupont said.
There is no legislation specifically protecting the rights of people living with HIV to health care, education and employment. As a result, said Beaujour, it was often difficult to press charges. PHAP+ and its partners have written a paper proposing such legislation, and a bill has been submitted to the Ministry for Public Health and Population.
Besides protecting HIV-positive people from discrimination, the aim of the bill is to create “a legal framework to protect the whole of society … in terms of [AIDS-related] research, [access to] medication and awareness”. Ahead of the Haitian parliament considering the bill, PHAP+ and its affiliates have launched a campaign to educate the general public about it.
“People’s mentalities are changing; they understand the situation and it is improving, and people who are victims of discrimination are starting to realise their rights,” said Beaujour. “The leaders [of the organisations] say we are undertaking too much activism, but we reply that we are fighting for life, for our rights and those of others.”
According to Beaujour, the authorities should see the proposed law as a way of involving themselves in the fight against AIDS, which has largely been led by international donors.
“There is a lack of leadership in the fight against AIDS – it is not visible; but a legal framework could mark the start of this [leadership],” he said.
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